Heth, Shoes, Spies, and Lee's Grand Strategy

Letter from Major-General Henry Heth, of A. P. Hill's Corps, A. N. V. The shoe letter Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 4, pages 151-160
From : Matt
Ok, with that passed I can ask a question of more moving significance...and a possible discussion topic...What were the confederates doing in Gettysburg on July 1 anyway?

They surely weren't looking for shoes as the popular myth states. To quote Mark Nesbitt, author of _Ghosts_of_Gettysburg_; "the 'Gettysburg Shoe Factories'...is a lot of malarkey." Gettysburg was a small town and had no vast shoe factories or anything of the like. The only way to obtain shoes in Gettysburg would be from the small shops or the townspeople. Not to mention the fact that Early had just been in the town and would have liberated all of the wealth, including shoes.

Harry Heth was a fighter and most likely was anxious to force an engagement of some kind. Let's face it, he was at the front of the ANV and with a decided victory over some Yankees he would have been considered a hero. Heth would have known that Early was just in Gettysburg and should also have known that all goods would have been taken or hidden. But the Yankees wouldn't have been hidden.

Lee's orders, as I understand it, was not to force an engagement until the army was concentrated somewhere outside Gettysburg. Heth was outside Gettysburg, with calvary in front of him. Usual tactics had the calvary in front of the main body. Calvary would have given a hint that there were plenty of infantry behind.

Heth knowing that also should not have sent anyone into Gettysburg. Instead it would seem more intelligent to assume a defensive position outside of town somewhere. A defensive position could have been found where his division could have waited until the army was concentrated there. Then, with both armies out in the open, an engagement could have taken place with the AoP in an offensive position on ground of the enemy's choosing.

So why did Heth go charging into Gettysburg? Not for shoes. That is the only thing that is certian in my mind. Even if Heth was under the impression that it was militia, not calvary in front of him, why go into an engagement with a little militia band? Why bother fighting and loosing any men because of a small town militia?

Sure Buford did a good job holding out (on ground of his choosing), but the engagement should not have been pressed at all.

Matt Tavener

Terry Moyer offers a summary of the opening of the battle pieced together from the OR's:

The attack from the west began with Heth's division, Archer and Davis' brigade. After the noon lull, Heth's division resumed the attack with Brockenbroughs brigade pushing up the Chambersburg road, with the brigade left resting on the road, the attack being centered on Stone's brigade (150th, 149th and 143d Pa) around the McPherson farm buildings. To the right of Brockenbrough is Pettigrew's brigade, they are facing and overlapping the iron brigade in McPherson woods, the rightmost regiments of Pettigrew confronting Biddle on the iron brigade's left. Buford's cavalry is roaming the area around the Hagerstown road protecting the left of the infantry. To counter this Archer's shattered brigade is tagging along as flankers to the right of Pettigrew. Davis is regrouping north and west of the McPherson farm. Rode's division is handling the fight north of the Chambersburg road.

A.P. Hill orders Pender's division to advance behind and within supporting distance of Heth's division and Pender forms a second line conforming with and following Heth. Pender's brigades are Scales who is tracing the south side of the road similar to and behind the advance of Brockenbrough. Scales' brigade is the one that will be practically destroyed by the fire of 21 guns spaced no farther than 5 yards apart on the Seminary Ridge line, the brigade front striking near and a bit to the north of the Seminary. To the right of Scales is Perrin and to the right of Perrin is Lane. One other brigade of Pender; Thomas', is held back in reserve and does not join the attack (A.P. Hill's report, Part 2, pg 607)

Heth's division expends it's blood and ammunition pushing the union line off of the McPherson ridge. The union line falls back to the Seminary Ridge. It is at this time that Pender's line passes through the exhausted brigades of Heth to finish the attack on the 1st Corps.

Scales is practically destroyed. Much of the force of Lane is dissipated in safeguarding the right of the Confederate line against cavalry attack, and the final assault falls heavily on the lone Confederate brigade of Perrin.

I have heard arguments that there were no shoe factories in Gettysburg and that the idea of the Confederates entering Gettysburg (and starting the battle) in search of shoes is one of those romantic myths about the battle of Gettysburg. A friend recently mentioned the battle starting this way, and I found myself hedging and saying, "well, that is a popular story, but I have heard that it may not be entirely true..." Since I was bopping all over the place in the O.R.s, and was hanging out in the neighborhood of Heth's division, it struck me that it might be a good time to settle this question once and for all. See Heth's report, Part 2, pg 637: "On the morning of June 30, I ordered Brigadier-General Pettigrew to take his brigade to Gettysburg, search the town for army supplies (shoes especially), and return the same day."

Well, I don't care what anyone else says, that question from now on is settled in my mind. The Confederates were after SHOES.

Terry Moyer

Subject: Heth's Brigade at Gettysburg

On the night of June 28 Lee received a report from a spy named Harrison that the AofP was moving in such a way as to threaten his rear. To counter this movement Lee ordered a concentration to the eastward. On June 29 Ewell was ordered to either Cashtown or Gettysburg. Hill was to move from Chambersburg to these same towns. Longstreet was to follow Hill on June 30.

To answer the query, "What was Heth doing in Gettysburg?", he was ordered there as a precautionary concentration against the probable location of the AofP. As to why Archer's Brigade moved so fast, Heth ordered a rapid move to seize the road junction ar Gettysburg. Buford arrived first!

From: Norman Levitt
Subject: Heth's advance

IMHO, to emphasize the role of either Heth or AP Hill in bringing on the battle is to miss the point. Lee had already formulated a plan on hearing that the AoP was shadowing him. It was to concentrate his three corps at Cashtown. Even as he was riding forward to get into the action northwest of Gettysburg, Lee remaarked on the strength of the Cashtown position; in case of defeat "it will shelter us from disaster."

Lee's original plan was an excellent one. This term, I happened to teach a class in a building that contains athe geology department and, for some reason, they had a huge molded relief map of PA hanging on the wall. Look at the Gettysburg area, if you have a comparable map. South Mountain ain't the Himalayas, but from the 19th century military perspective it's an impressive redoubt. The Cashtown Gap is the only broad passageway through it, and this is an easily defended pass. It could have been held indefinitely against any Federal frontal attack. Moreover, it backed up upon the Cumberland Valley route which was Lee's line of communication with Va.

Let's consider what kind of situation Lee would have had if he'd concentrated and fortified at Cashtown: